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Thread: L'Incoronazione di Poppea at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden - Berlin

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    L'Incoronazione di Poppea at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden - Berlin

    L'Incoronazione di Poppea, opera in one prologue and three acts, sung in Italian with German and English surtitles
    Libretto by Giovanni Francesco Busenello
    Premiered at the Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo in Venice during the 1643 carnival season

    This article is part of the Opera Lively coverage of opera houses in the German-speaking area of Central Europe in the Summer of 2018 - see the links to numerous other reviews, interviews, pictorial blogs, and other articles related to this coverage, by clicking [here]

    This is a production of the Staatsoper Unter den Linden (Berlin)

    This review is of the performance on July 8, 2018, attended in person

    There will be two more performances in this run, on July 12 and 14 - for tickets, click [here]

    AKADEMIE FÜR ALTE MUSIK BERLIN conducted by Andrea Marchiol

    PRODUCTION Eva-Maria Höckmayr
    SET DESIGNER Jens Kilian
    COSTUMES Julia Rösler
    LIGHT DESIGN Olaf Freese and Irene Selka
    DRAMATURGY Mark Schachtsiek and Roman Reeger


    FORTUNA Niels Domdey (Soloist of the Children Chorus)
    FORTUNA, DAMIGELLA - Narine Yeghiyan
    VIRTÙ - Artina Kapreljan (Soloist of the Children Chorus)
    AMORE, VALLETTO - Mária Celeng
    AMORE - Noah Schurz (Soloist of the Children Chorus)
    NERONE - Max Emanuel Cencic
    OTTAVIA - Katharina Kammerloher (Opera Lively interviewee)
    POPPEA - Roberta Mameli (future Opera Lively interviewee)
    OTTONE - Xavier Sabata
    SENECA - Andrea Mastroni
    DRUSILLA - Evelin Novak
    LIBERTO, LUCANO - Gyula Orendt
    FIRST SOLDIER, LUCANO - Andrés Moreno García
    SECOND SOLDIER - Benjamin Popson
    TRIBUN - David Oštrek
    NUTRICE - Jochen Kowalski
    ARNALTA - Mark Milhofer

    In his last opera, Claudio Monteverdi drew for the first time on material with real historical figures, and thus created the first "sex-and-crime story" in operatic history. Like a political thriller, this early Baroque masterpiece tells a story of power and passion and of occasions where it is abused.

    Poppea Sabina, the most beautiful woman in Rome, wants nothing less than to be Empress at the side of Emperor Nerone. To this end, she uses all her seductive powers to persuade Nerone to assassinate his wife, Ottavia. When the imperial philosopher Seneca opposes this plan, he has to pay for it with his life. Meanwhile, Ottavia in turn incites the spurned and deceived Ottone to kill her power-hungry rival Poppea. However, the murder is thwarted in time: Ottavia is shunned and Poppea fulfils her plans, wishes and dreams.

    At the end of their opera, Monteverdi and his librettist Busenello demonstrate their bitter view of the world: all their characters have flaws, and ultimately, those allowed to triumph are those who act most unscrupulously. Monteverdi manages the feat of exposing his partially caricatured figures, whose melodies are very differently characterized, in a sometimes humorous fashion while also creating empathy for them. His extremely expressive music, with sensual melodies, bold harmonies and astoundingly avant-garde style, tempts us to cheer on the adulterers, despite their scandalous behavior.


    Review of the performance:

    This was another very good show in this trip. Given that three days ago I saw the same opera in Zürich in a production by Calixto Bieito (click on the coverage portal to see the review for that one), it is quite inevitable that I'll draw comparisons. Of course, the more logical path is to consider this production on its own merits, given that it happened in a different city, a different country, with a different cast, stage director, conductor, and orchestra; but it is just human nature that 72 hours apart, there is no way for this reviewer to avoid thinking of the other one.

    Given that the Zürich production was the second best so far in this trip (only behind the Bayerische Staatsoper's Parsifal), the bar has been set very high.

    Still, this performance by the Staatsoper Unter den Linden meets the challenge. I won't say it was just as good; as a matter of fact it was indeed a notch below the one in Zürich; but it did have its moments, and in some of them it was actually better.

    Unlike Calixto Bieito who put together a dazzling show full of special effects, technology, and over-the-top visuals, Eva-Maria Höckmayr went for the minimalist approach. The set, which you can see in the curtain calls pictures below, was only one for the entire opera: a ramp going up the stage that ends with a curve on a background wall, which has some diagonal scratches. The center of the stage is a turntable that revolves at times. Everything else is done with lighting, which changes colors several times, but is predominantly in golden hues. That's it.

    There is one permanent prop: on the left side of the stage there is a dead woman laying on the floor. At first I thought it was a human; its lack of movement for four hours convinced me that it was a doll.

    Other than that, the only variation is that people sometimes strip off of their period costumes (always, contemporary clothes are underneath them), and they pile up on the floor, so that by the end the stage is busier than in the beginning. Also, the two characters who die - Seneca, and Ottavia (yes, in the libretto she doesn't, but in this production, she does) remain as cadavers, until the end.

    Regarding blocking, almost all characters remain on stage for the duration of the four hours. Very rarely someone goes out but then comes back right away. They walk around doing various things when they are not singing, or simply stand up and watch the action. Poor Katharina Kammerloher is the most static one; most of the time she just stands in watch; I wonder if four hours standing up on a steep ramp is not extremely fatiguing and even painful.

    Lighting is a very important element. A lot of the colors come from the lights, and they change a lot, with a rather clear relationship with the events on stage.

    So, what are the most important concept points? There aren't many; like I said, it's a sparse production. But there are some: one, the contemporary clothes underneath the period ones, do evoke the fact that over the centuries, the human condition remains the same. The other one is the best part of this production, and something that Eva-Maria did better than Calixto: there is no rejoicing at the end, for Poppea. Once instead of being exiled, Ottavia just keels over and dies, Poppea becomes very anxious and distressed, realizing that her victory is short-lived, because her new husband is a sanguinary tyrant who easily tires of his concubines and has them killed. As we know from Roman history, Poppea indeed gets killed and doesn't get to enjoy her new title of Empress of Rome for too long.

    So, we get the most peculiar "Pur ti miro" I've ever seen, with Nero all excited, and Poppea extremely frightened and uncomfortable. This was a touch of genius, and I really liked it.

    So, staging-wise, how can these two new productions by two very important opera houses compare?

    Well, Calixto's is much sexier, eventful, lively, and generally more interesting. I thought that having all characters constantly on stage with one single set for four hours, got old and tiresome after a while, and was detrimental due to a lack of focus. The most striking characteristic of Calixto's approach is that he really focused on each individual character and his/her psychological drama, including, zooming into the artists' facial expressions with his close-up images on 15 screens. Over here, given that the other characters walk around and do other stuff while the scenes are going on, there is just too much happening on stage, and it often becomes confusing and scattered.

    This production has an orgy (unlike Calixto's) and Poppea even gets into a threesome with Nero and the first soldier, which is rather edgy in terms of simulated sex, but still, Calixto's production is much sexier. The sensual aspect in his show is natural, enticing, and lots of fun, while in Eva-Maria's, the sex is dry and unappealing. This is not the fault of the Staatsoper's Poppea: Roberta Mameli is a very fine-looking lady and she is more than sexy enough. It's the stage direction that doesn't make her blossom like Julie Fuchs did in Zürich.

    While visually beautiful (the costumes are something!), this production is much more static than Calixto's.

    Also, the Spanish director's production showed Nero in a much more terrifying and violent way. The Berlin Nero, next to his Zürich counterpart, was rather lame.

    What about the musical aspects? Again, given the inevitable comparison, let's go element by element:

    La Scintilla is a fine ensemble, but the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin beat them, by far. The score came alive in a much stronger way than it did when the more subdued and softer La Scintilla played it in Zürich. Advantage, Berlin. Conducting, more energetic and exciting in Berlin, too.

    Prologue singers, Fortuna, Virtú, and Amore: strong advantage for Zürich. Berlin chose to use three children from their Kinderchores der Staatsoper Unter den Linden, and these children, although cute, seemed a bit lost in this show that is definitely very adult. Instead, Calixto chose to make of the three prologue figures, witty, sensual, and comic elements, which ended up being one of the high points of the spectacle, unlike the Berlin kids who looked like deer in the headlights and didn't contribute much. And then, the Berlin production chose to introduce some adults to also sing the parts of Amore and Fortuna, which resulted in a confusing and less than ideal set-up. In Zürich the prologue singers remained the same throughout the show, providing steady commentary and participating as needed, in a much more efficient approach.

    Nerone - Max Emanuel Cencic did well but in his very high notes there is a bit of distortion. It's close to a tie, since the Zürich Nerone was good too but I still give the edge to Zürich (no distortion).

    Ottavia - Vast advantage for Zürich. Stéphanie d'Oustrac was several miles ahead of Katharina Kammerloher. The latter was fine; no complaints; I'd have liked her performance if I hadn't just seen Stéphanie's outstanding delivery, 72 hours earlier.

    Poppea - Almost a tie but I still give the edge to Julie Fuchs. Roberta Mameli, though, was one of the highest elements of tonight's show. It's just that Julie was still a bit better.

    Ottone - Another vast advantage for Zürich. Xavier Sabata has a beautiful voice and he sings all the lines correctly (and he acts the role well, too), but he lacks volume.

    Seneca - Another tie. Both very good.

    Drusilla - Advantage Berlin. Evelin Novak is not as stunning-looking as the Zürich Drusilla, but she is a better singer.

    Comprimarios were fine in both cities. A special mention needs to be given to Mária Celeng, who doubled as the adult Amore, and Valletto; very good singing! Andrés Moreno Garcia was also several notches above the other comprimarios, and was actually a pleasure to hear; one would have hoped for a longer role for him.

    Overall, other than for Drusilla, Valletto, and the First Soldier, Zürich did better in the matter of singing. But don't read me wrong: the Belin ensemble was pretty excellent too. Again, it's just that I just saw a better singing performance three days ago.

    Musically, then, we have the conductor/orchestra doing better in Berlin, and the singers doing better in Zürich; both elements were good in both cities.

    Calixto Beito's staging was better than Eva-Maria Höckmayr's, and the physical production in Zürich gets the upper hand too.

    In summary, this is a grade A+ show, very recommended, which failed by a notch to achieve the maximum score of A++ given a lack of focus with paradoxically both too much happening on stage, and also a somewhat static feeling, as well as a couple of roles (Ottavia, Ottone) who did well but weren't outstanding. Still, the evening was highly entertaining, and there was exceptional orchestral playing with very good singing most of the time.

    The new Staatsoper Unter den Linden is a bit disappointing. Like people have already extensively commented when the renovated house re-opened, for all the years they took doing it, they could have had a better result. The house from the inside looks underwhelming, and the acoustics, seat comfort, and line of sight are not as good as in Vienna, Munich, and Zürich.

    Curtain call pictures, and the side of the Staatsoper building:

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    Production Pictures

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    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); July 9th, 2018 at 07:41 AM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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  3. #2
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Pictorial Blog, Berlin

    The Staatsoper Unter den Linden

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    The City

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    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    The review of the performance has been completed; scroll up to the first post of this thread.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Staff Member Top Contributor Member Hoffmann's Avatar
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    Oh no! You should have started by stating „Spoilers Ahead“!

    I’m not surprised. After I read your review from Zürich, and being a Calixto Bieito admirerer, pretty much knew that the Staatsoper couldn‘t come close, but hoped that the singing at least would equal their performance - what with 2 of the world‘s most famous countertenors singing.

    One of the reasons Elizabeth and I have started to appreciate Deutsche Oper performances is they tend to stage more interesting productions than the Staatsoper - very traditional in some cases, like the La Gioconda but also edgy, like the Tristan und Isolde with T&I as drug addicts and with naked supernumeraries about (and I don‘t recall either being in Wagner‘s libretto or stage instructions..) - but riveting - and featured Nina Stemme and Stephen Gould singing T&I.

    The Staatsoper, on the other hand, is considerably more conservative, though it occasionally hires directors with edgy reputations (Dmitri Tcherniakov) but in most cases, their productions, while enjoyable, can be unfocused. An exception was last year‘s La Damnation de Faust, staged by Terry Gilliam as history of the Holocaust (in a co-production with the ROH) that was eye-popping, considering the events on stage happened pretty much right outside the front door.

    In any event, Berlin, with its 3 superb opera houses, is an opera lover‘s dream come true!

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Tired as I was last night, I committed a number of grammar, spelling, and even character name mistakes in the above review. Now, after a night of sleep, I read it again and hopefully corrected all the errors. The most notable one is that in the summary I said that Nerone wasn't so good, when I meant Ottone.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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